Olivier MESSIAEN (1908-1992) L'Ascension (1933-1934) [25:04] Diptyque (1928-1930) [10:51] Offrande au Saint-Sacrement (1930s) [6:04] Prélude (1928-1930) [8:14] Le Banquet Céleste (1928) [7:14] Apparition de l'Église Éternelle (1932) [9:06]
Tom Winpenny (organ)
rec. 17-18 February 2015, St Giles’ Cathedral, Edinburgh, Scotland
Reviewed as a 16-bit download from eClassical
Pdf booklet included NAXOS 8.573471 [66:33]
Having just reviewed
Treasure Island’s reissue of Jennifer Bate’s Messiaen cycle
– and revisited Gillian Weir’s and Hans-Ola Ericsson’s
along the way – this music is still very fresh in my mind. That’s
why I wasted no time downloading this new collection, the second in
Tom Winpenny’s series for Naxos. I gave the first a guarded welcome
There he plays the recently refurbished Harrison & Harrison of St
Albans Cathedral; here it's the 1992 Rieger at St Giles’ Cathedral,
Edinburgh. I was pleased to see that Adrian Lucas of Acclaim Productions,
who did such a good job on that initial issue, is also the engineer
on this one.
It seems this new cycle is proceeding more or less chronologically;
the first volume was devoted to La Nativité du Seigneur (1935),
while the present one focuses on the late 1920s and early to mid 1930s.
Offrande au Saint-Sacrement and Prélude, discovered
in 1997, may only be of peripheral interest but they are still worth
hearing. At the very least they give us some insight into the composer's
formative years. Incidentally, the Weir, Ericsson and Latry sets include
these pieces; Bate's, completed in the 1980s, doesn't.
Derived from an orchestral piece penned between 1932 and 1933, L'Ascension
pulses with music of remarkable confidence and power. Indeed, it’s
as if the composer had already decided on a rough direction of travel.
Winpenny’s account of Majesté du Christ signals much
the same thing. It’s cleanly articulated, but I find his dynamic
contrasts a tad contrived at times. On the plus side he's keenly aware
of the score's epiphanies. I nearly inserted the adjective ‘ecstatic’
there, but then this slightly detached opener and the cool Alleluias
that follow confirm my feelings about Winpenny's Messiaen; it's more
about head than heart.
That's certainly true of his Transports de joie; despite thrilling
heft and rhythmic certainty there’s little of the emotional intensity
that Bate, Weir and Ericsson bring to the music at this point. Winpenny
makes amends with a quietly radiant Prière, whose sense of
musical and spiritual uplift is superbly realised. Such bursts of inspiration
suggest he has more than a passing acquaintance with this repertoire;
alas, that’s not enough when his rivals establish - and sustain
- a profound and compelling narrative. In short, this intermittently
insightful performance is just too earthbound to engage and satisfy.
The delightfully deft Diptyque is one of the stand-out items
in Bate’s box, and it gave me great pleasure to be reacquainted
with it before listening to Winpenny’s version. Once again I was
struck by Lucas’s recording, and how effortlessly it captures
the sound of this magnificent Rieger; however, I was much less taken
with the playing, which seems almost perfunctory after the animation
and character of Bate’s account. Yes, there are moments of real
beauty here, but they just don’t add up to a very convincing or
As with most prototypes, musical or otherwise, the two early/posthumously
discovered pieces are illuminating; for instance, one hears in the questing
sound-whirls of Offrande strong hints of what is yet to come.
The work’s deep, droning bass and its corona of filigreed loveliness
are just wonderful. Ditto the ruminative little Prélude. Perhaps
it’s no surprise that Winpenny seems more at ease with Messiaen-in-the-making,
as his own approach to this music seems to be evolving too.
No such uncertainties about Le Banquet Céleste and Apparition
de l'Église Éternelle, both of which find the composer in
full and confident voice. That’s more than I can say about Winpenny,
who has the notes but doesn't convey much else.This is a very dull feast;
also, there’s little shape or thrill to Messiaen’s febrile
vision of the Eternal Church. Bate isn’t at her best in these
two pieces either, but Ericsson and Weir are very dramatic indeed. That
said, for a memorable account of that final work – sculpted in
glittering sound – Thomas Trotter is hard to beat (Decca).
Winpenny’s Messiaen is still a work in progress; very good engineering,